|B u y t h e t o y s , n o t t h e h y p e .|
by yo go re
Although the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles underwent a hurly-burly rush to power, they never forgot where they came from. At the same time their faces were plastered all over bedsheets, lunchboxes and an entire merchandising tsunami, they tried to bring some of their black and white indie comic bretheren along for the ride, including the rabbit bodyguard Usagi Yojimbo.
This ain't no cuddly cottontail or geriatric jackrabbit - this is Usagi Yojimbo, a noble, honorable, and masterless samurai warrior from 17th century Japan! The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first met Usagi Yojimbo (literal translation: "rabbit bodyguard") in the Battle Nexus arena competition, where they learn that the samurai rabbit has been an old friend to their master, Splinter, as well as his master, Hamato Yoshi! Back in his homeland (and home-time) of 17th century feudal Japan, Usagi travels the countryside fighting corruption and evil in order to uphold the warrior's code of honor known as... bushido!
Usagi showed up in the original cartoon and toyline, but he was just on loan: TMNT creators Eastman and Laird stayed true to their roots when they hit the big time. As the second-most successful toy line of the '90s, the Turtles shared shelf space with contemporaries like Panda Khan and Usagi Yojimbo, giving their fellow small publishers some big publicity.
Created by Stan Sakai, Usagi Yojimbo is the story of Miyamoto Usagi, a masterless ronin in Japan's Edo period, wandering the land on a shogyusha, or warrior's pilgrimage. His adventures are based loosely on those of renowned samurai hero Miyamoto Musashi, but by setting the story in a world of talking animals, Sakai is free to exaggerate or change things whenever he sees fit.
The original Usagi figure was surprisingly realistic: it looked like a real rabbit head on a samurai body, rather than the fluid linework of Sakai's artwork. This new version, in that respect, is much better: the sculpt is much more cartoony, and looks quite a bit like the art. Granted, the figures from Antarctic Press looked dead-on, but this is surprisingly close. His ears are tied up into a samurai's topknot, and they even got the arcing scar above his left eye.
Unfortunately, that's about the only thing on this figure that's an improvement. The articulation is atrocious: he moves at the neck, shoulders, elbows, waist and hips, but despite all that, he's basically stuck in one pose, since all the movement in his arms is accomplished with peg joints.
On top of that, his waist is rendered useless by his action feature: turn his waist until it clicks, then press the little button on his back to make him swing his swords. So he's permanently twisted to the side, and you can't have him facing straight ahead. Of course, even if you could, he'd still have his arms stuck straight out to the sides like a goof.
Usagi comes with two daisho, the samurai's set of swords. Yes, for some reason, he has two katana and two wakizashi. There are scabbards on his belt to hold the extra swords. I guess, if you're a fan of the comics, you could pretend that one of the katana is the legendary Grasscutter, but really, their inclusion just seems useless. Maybe Playmates should have scrapped the duplicates and used the money they saved to design some good articulation.
Even though the design wasn't even close to being right, the original 1989 Usagi figure is a much better toy than ths version: no action feature, more articulation, better accessories... I thought a 15-year gap would have meant an improvement, but apparently not.
Who's your favorite Usagi Yojimbo character? Tell us on our message board, The Loafing Lounge.